Rob was on the Canadian National Baseball team when he was younger, and the Toronto, Ontario, native spoke with Jeremy Knight about friends through baseball, former jobs, and much more.
Jeremy Knight: You were a college baseball player, and now you're the broadcaster for a Northwest League team. How do those jobs compare?
Rob Fai: I think the pressure's the same for both. When you're a baseball player, of course, you're always worried about the stats and how you're doing. That's the same when you're a broadcaster. You're always making sure you know your stats, and making sure you can handle the pressure because with games like tonight in one-run ballgames, you have to make sure the fans at home understand it. The pressure's a bit different but I think you're striving for the same thing.
JK: Playing for the Canadian National team, do you wish you could've gone pro and maybe played at parks like Nat Bailey?
RF: I did play in ballparks like Nat Bailey. On the East Coast, I played in Olympic Stadium, Skydome, the difference for me not going pro was just timing. Back when I was playing, being a Canadian and getting drafted was a real rarity. The guy I played baseball with, Todd Betts, was one of the highest drafted Canadians and he was drafted in the 15th round. Now we're talking about guys like [Adam] Loewen, Jeff Francis who were drafted in the top-10 overall and that was not the case when I was playing baseball.
Do I wish I could've gone pro? Of course I do but to play for your country, I think there's something unique to that.
JK: Canadian baseball players, like you said, are now getting more recognition for their play. A Vancouver native who played for UBC Connor Janes was drafted in the 24th round to Arizona and had a pretty good rookie season, and with guys like [Justin] Morneau, [Jason] Bay to populate the sport in Canada, do you think there's hope for another Canadian team?
RF: Do I think there's another Canadian team on the way? Probably not but do I think there's motivation, absolutely. You see kids when they're dropping names not just guys from their provinces, but are from their own area. Now you've got Harden from Victoria, Bay from Trail, kids from the Lower Mainland, Loewen from the Lower Mainland, all those guys are from one neck of the woods. If you've played baseball in BC you have someone to look-up to and they have coaches that have goten them there. That, for me, is one thing that gets forgotten. Yeah, those guys have gone onto play professional baseball but who got them there?
Some of those guys didn't take the big college route, Jeff Francis played at UBC, Adam Loewen pretty much a young gun, [Ryan] Dempster never went to University but then you look back to who develops them and that to me is as much motivation. Now you can play for the Langley Blaze or the Trail Smokeaters, and you can get into these programs at a young age that can give you a legitimate shot to get looked at by a scout. I never got looked at, I was up in Canada, we didn't even have a regional scout! That's really what it comes down to. Will you be seen. Realistically, only if you got into some American tournaments did you get seen. A lot of good talent got passed by.
JK: Growing up who was your favorite MLB team?
RF: Actually, I was a Jays guy. Maybe, I shouldn't say that. Half Blue Jays, half Minnesota Twins. I was such a big Kirby Puckett fan, I just loved them. The worst-to-first when they were worst in '90 and they came back to win the World Series in '91, as a kid that was the coolest thing ever. But if you grow up in Toronto, I was a teenager for the '92, '93 World Series, Jays for life man. Even though I've fallen out watching them as much as I did since moving out to Vancouver, I still follow them as much as I can.
JK: You're in Vancouver as the Canadians broadcaster, and last week I read an article where you said if the Jays ever called you about their play-by-play job you'd seriously consider it - what would you do?
RF: If the Blue Jays came calling? I'd take it in a heartbeat. The only reason is, not because it's a move up for me, it's just that I think every kid has a dream of playing for their hometown team. I'm obviously never going to play pro ball, much less for the Blue Jays, but I think the next best thing is being a broadcaster. You have such an intimate relationship with the players, I mean the things that I'm apart of and understand, it's almost like I'm a part of the team.
If the Blue Jays came knocking and Jerry Howarth retired, actually Jerry's a very good friend of mine now, and I sent a lot of tapes to him to see what he thinks. It's a very remote one-day possibility that my name would be put in the mix just because of the relationship that I've built with them.
JK: The Ottawa Lynx just finished their final game in minor league baseball, and next year Vancouver will be the only franchise in Canada. Being apart of that organization, is it something to be proud of after eight or nine Canadian teams were around a few years ago?
RF: I think it's a little bit bittersweet. I'm proud to be a member of the Vancouver Canadians, regardless of if we're the only team in Canada, but I think now it's kind of interesting. Let me put this into perspective for you, everyone else is declining when we're increasing. Our numbers are up from last year, we just signed a new PDC with the Oakland A's so there will be baseball here for at least another three years. I think for me, that's what makes me proud.
We're an organization on the rise, but I feel so bad for diehard fans in Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary, Hamilton, Welland, all of those cities that have fallen by the wayside. Am I proud? Yeah, but probably not because we're the last team standing. More so, on what we're building.
JK: In 2001, when you were the Media Relations manager here, you had the opportunity to be with guys like Neal Cotts, Mike Wood who are now in the Major Leagues. Neal Cotts, won a World Series, and now in 2007 with guys like Corey Brown, Lance Sewell, Sean Doolittle, who will probably make it big someday, how do some of those guys compare from the past and the present on how they play?
RF: That's a really good question. I think for me the difference was how much wiser I am this time around. In 2001, I was still in my 20's doing this job, and I was in a little over my head. The one guy that really taught me a lot was Rich Harden. I mean, Neal Cotts was a really quiet guy, Mike Wood if memory serves me correct left before the end of the season so I don't know if my relationship with him developed the way mine did with Rich.Me and Rich talk on the phone almost every second week, we talk all the time about what's going on, what's new and girlfriends, life and just everything.
I think this time around, you do see some similarities. Almost an eery similarity between Dan Johnson in 2001 and Dan Hamblin from 2007. Not only in the way they play and the position they play but their demeanor. It's unique.
I think some of these guys will become pros, and I've learned to slow down and enjoy those conversations. I've had them take pictures, I've had them do autographs, because these are special moments and the good ones, we'll never see again here in Vancouver. I think this time around, I've learned to appreciate things a bit more.
JK: If memory serves correct, you were one of the color guys for the Shaw TV broadcasts back when they covered the Canadians, I remember watching those when I was four years old to see myself on TV, and then there's Kevin Cady and Rob Fai. You've seen guys like Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson pitch here, is it nice to know that now they're enjoying big major league careers?
RF: [Laughs] Boy, you've done your homework man. Yeah, I think back then when I was the color guy I was overwhelmed by how good that team was. You look back at some of the names that were on that team, the two names you just dropped and you have a phenomenal baseball team.
The beauty of my job back then with Shaw, was I got to do the post-game interviews in the clubhouse. So, you'd really get to talk. I remember interviewing Jack McDowell, there's a guy that won two Cy Young's and came down here for a stint. But my greatest memory at Nat Bailey Stadium - and I'll send this in a different direction, this is a story I haven't really told a lot of people.
Back in 1994, I had just come to Vancouver, like just gotten here. This was before the National Baseball Institute and all that stuff, I needed a summer job. And my first job at Nat Bailey Stadium, 1994, I made hotdogs in the back for the whole season and nobody knows that, because I've just never gotten around to it. One day, I had my Team Canada bag with me, and I think the General Manager was Jack O'Halleren back then, and he walked by and noticed the bag.
He went, "You play baseball." I said, "Yeah, I play baseball." And he goes, "You play a pretty high level of baseball." I said, "Well yeah I'm working on it, I'm still young." He told me he was pretty good friends with the Pitching Coach Gary Ruby, so one day he said bring your bag and sure enough he brought me out on the field, and Jorge Fabregas caught for me. I don't know if he was happy about it, because he had a thousand things to do, and sure enough the guy was true to his word.
And that memory, after I threw the bullpen, Gary said why don't you just go and shag balls. I turned around and there was Jim Edmonds, Garrett Anderson, Darin Erstad, I couldn't believe how lucky I was.
And as I look back on that moment, that was what 13 years ago, I was so lucky and when I walk by - now that I have one of the higher-up positions - every time I walk by a Hot Dog vendor or a Hamburger vendor, I still remember being there and I try to treat them as good as I can because maybe one day they'll become a broadcaster, you never know. Interesting story, that's a good question man.
JK: So are you saying you could've made a hot dog for Troy Percival?
RF: [Laughs] You know, I think I might have. The first free hot dog I gave away was to Ernie Riles and I don't know if you remember the name but it was funny. He couldn't find his wallet, and I don't know if that was a ploy on his part to try and get a free one, but I remember giving him one saying that anyone who makes it to the show gets a free dog. But yeah, Troy Percival was probably on that list as well.
That was such a great time, I got to love that, and one of the guys I actually got to meet was Chris Pritchett and because he's the hitting coach I can still pull an interview - VHS tapes - to show him one of my first interviews and how bad I was. And seeing how funny it was, so we laugh about that now.
JK: Are you planning on being back with the team as Media Relations Director next year?
RF: Yeah, I mean this was a job that when I left News 1130, I wanted them to know I wanted it to be a full time deal. If it was just a summer job, I wouldn't have left because I had a pretty good job and good hours, and everything was good. It was right when the Canucks were getting ready for Training Camp, and they asked me what I was going to do. But I love it here, and Andy Dunn who's a consultant/master of all tasks has said they're happy with me so I guess it's more of a question of if they'll have me back. Because, I know if they would, I'd love to come back. I'd love to be here, doing it for as long as I can so that when people think of the radio, my name's the first one to come to them.
JK: Thanks very much.
Jeremy Knight is known as Canada's wonderkid of sports reporting. He covers CFL football, college baseball and minor league hockey for The Roadkill Sports Blog, and pro baseball for Notes From The Nat and Scout.com.
Note: This article also appeared on Notesfromthenat.com.